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Everything You Need to Know about the PCAT

standardized testing
Last updated on November 12, 2020

If you want to become a pharmacist, you need to know all about the Pharmacy College Admissions Test, or PCAT. The PCAT is required for application to pharmacy programs in the United States.

A female international student pharmacist in training reaches up into a shelf of prescription medicine

Being a pharmacist (also known as chemist or druggist), requires a Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degree to practice in the United States. Pharmacists can work in retail settings, hospitals, private medical practices, online pharmacies, pharmaceutical wholesalers, or for the federal government. Admission to pharmacy school requires taking the Pharmacy College Admissions Test (PCAT). 

What is the PCAT?

The PCAT is a computer-based standardized test administered by Pearson Education, Inc. What does the PCAT measure? This standardized test evaluates a test taker’s general academic ability and scientific knowledge necessary for a pharmaceutical education. 

Here is everything prospective pharmacy students need to know about the test, including how long does the PCAT take, how the PCAT score is calculated, and what is considered a good PCAT score. 

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July 30 update

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in several changes to the PCAT test process. Here is what you need to know. 

Pearson has decided to reopen selected test centers for the PCAT test. Reopened test centers will follow strict health measures to ensure your safety and require test takers to wear face masks for the duration of the exam. To find out whether a test center near you is open, visit the Pearson test website

If your appointment for the PCAT test is affected, Pearson will send you an email and notify you. You will receive a full refund if you registered through Pearson VUE (e.g., the branch of Pearson that administers computer-based exams). You can also choose to reschedule for a new date that will be available for testing. To find out if your exam appointment is available or to reschedule, log in to your Pearson VUE account

If you are unable to take the test or cannot travel to an official testing center, you can choose to cancel or reschedule. You can find out whether there are fees or deadlines in your appointment confirmation email.

For more specifics, visit the Pearson COVID-19 FAQ website

If you have any questions or need assistance regarding the PCAT test, please reach out to a Shorelight representative. 

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What is the structure of the PCAT? 

More specifically, how many sections does the PCAT exam have? How many questions are on the PCAT? 

The PCAT has 192 multiple-choice questions and one writing prompt. It is divided into five subtests, given in the following order:

  1. Writing: thirty minutes, one essay question. This section contains a single prompt or problem that requires a written solution or explanation. International students should be aware that there is no spell-check or other writing tools available for this section.

  2. Biology: forty-five minutes, forty-eight questions. This section includes 50% general biology, 30% human anatomy, and 20% microbiology questions presented as short passages or stand-alone items. An on-screen calculator is built into the exam.

  3. Chemical processes: forty-five minutes, forty-eight questions. This section includes 50% general chemistry, 30% organic chemistry, and 20% basic biochemistry process questions presented as short passages or stand-alone items. Students have access to a periodic table. Just like in the biology section, an on-screen calculator is built into the exam.

  4. Critical reading: fifty minutes, forty-eight questions. This section includes 40% analysis, 30% comprehension, and 30% evaluation questions given in sets that accompany reading passages.

  5. Quantitative reasoning: fifty minutes, forty-eight questions. This section includes 25% general math, 25% algebra, 18% probability and statistics, 18% precalculus, and 14% calculus stand-alone items, many of which are presented as word problems or problem-solving exercises. Test takers can also use a built-in on-screen calculator in this section.

Pearson also offers sample questions to show the types of material covered on the PCAT. 

PCAT TIP

Each multiple-choice section has experimental questions that will not count toward your score. There is no penalty for guessing, meaning you should attempt to answer each question. 

How long is the PCAT? How long does it take to get PCAT scores?

The PCAT takes approximately four-and-a-half hours to complete, including a break. After the test is finished, you will receive an unofficial preliminary score report at the test center. 

How is the PCAT scored? What is a good PCAT score?

Scores range from 200 to 600 and are a composite of points from the multiple-choice questions. There is no passing score in general: each college or university sets its own standards for admission. Check with the colleges that interest you to see what the specific passing ranges are. PCAT score ranges are ranked as a percentile relative to current PCAT average scores from recent groups of test takers. 

When is PCAT registration? When are PCAT test dates 2020?

The exam is offered in January, July, and September at Pearson VUE Test Centers. 

How much does taking the PCAT cost?

Exam fees for PCAT are $210 and include three transcript recipients. Late registration and additional transcripts will cost you extra money. Your printable official scores are available for free online for one year, or you can pay a small annual fee to access them for up to five years. 

How many times can PCAT be taken?

The PCAT can be taken up to five times. Additional attempts require prior permission. Scores will automatically be sent to the three universities or colleges chosen during the registration process. You have the option to cancel this by selecting “No Score Option” at the end of the exam, but you also will not receive your scores and will not receive a refund of fees. 

How to study for PCAT

Depending how much time you can dedicate per week to studying and your level of knowledge of the material, most students plan on between one and three months of preparation for the PCAT, using official study materials from Pearson or a test-prep company like Kaplan.

Study hard and best of luck on your first step toward earning your Pharm.D.!

Speak with a Shorelight advisor today to start planning your next steps toward studying in the US >